By Len Lazarick
A proposal to give all 313 Maryland judges a $35,000 raise over the next four years faces a hearing Tuesday in the House Appropriations Committee.
The recommendations of the Judicial Compensation Commission will take effect automatically if the legislature does not reject or amend them by March 15 — and lawmakers have not been hesitated to reject or reduce judicial pay hikes in the past.
Under HJ3, the pay of the chief judge of the Court of Appeals would rise from $195,433 to $230,433 in 2021. Salaries for the 173 circuit court judges would go up to $189,433 and the pay for 117 district court judges, the lowest paid of the jurists, would go up to $176,333.
This means the majority of Maryland judges would make more than the governor’s $180,000 annual salary and every judge would make more than all but two of his cabinet secretaries. Only the state Superintendent of Schools makes more than the governor — as do school superintendents in the largest jurisdictions, making them the highest paid officials in Maryland.
The median household income in Maryland is $78,945, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey, the highest in the country, meaning half of Maryland households make less than that.
The judicial pay hikes would cause a budget increase of $22.5 million over the next four years.
Not the highest paid in the U.S.
Maryland judges, however, are not the highest paid in the country, and keeping up with the other states is one of the reasons the commission recommended a sharp increase.
According to the commission report, Maryland circuit court judges currently rank 21st among the general jurisdiction court judges — the judges who handle jury trials in criminal and civil cases. Judges in Hawaii, Illinois, New York and California at the high end making over $191,000 a year. Judges in all Maryland’s neighboring states, except for West Virginia, also make more than in Maryland.
Maryland judges last got a raise in 2015; it was a $14,000 raise that had been phased in over three years.
“When comparing Maryland judicial salaries with regional counterparts as well as nationally, the State’s position has generally dropped since the commission last proposed salary increases and salaries have failed to keep pace with inflation,” commission chairman Elizabeth Buck said in her letter submitting its recommendations to the governor and legislature. “While the commission recognizes the continuing economic challenges in the State, it has been six years since a recommendation has been proposed and judges have not received a salary increase since July 1, 2015. Accordingly, a majority of the commission members agree that there is now a compelling need to increase judicial salaries, in order to assure that qualified individuals will continue to be attracted to serve as judges.”
The high cost of living in Maryland is another justification for the raise.
No pay raise for legislators
Members of the legislature now make $50,330 for their supposedly part-time jobs. The General Assembly Compensation Commission last month recommended no pay hikes for legislators, who had gotten phased-in raises over the past four years after no increases since 2006.
UPDATE 2/12: The Governor’s Salary Commission last month also unanimously recommended no raises for the governor and lieutenant governor in the coming terms. In its brief letter of transmittal, the commission noted that inflation had been lower than projected four years ago when the current salaries were set and Maryland’s governor and lieutenant were already in the top quartile of salaries for those positions nationwide.